Team building season is just around the corner, and you are already rolling your eyes thinking about the next boring rope course you’ll be attending? You’re certainly not alone. Offsite team building activities have gotten a bad rep over the past few years. And for good reason. Building an effective team is hard, but be real for a second: Have one-off outings like rock climbing or karaoke evenings ever really improved your team’s collaboration? If you carefully think about it, your answer is probably a hard no.
We unpack the reasons why so many companies spend thousands on awkward team building exercises that, at the end of the day, simply do not work. Are team building exercises effective? What does team building even accomplish? So many questions! But don’t worry, all hope is not lost just yet. Team experiences can be rewarding, you just have to do them right. Intrigued? Then keep on reading, you’ve come to the right spot!
Team building activities can be a very effective tool to improve the performance of your team. However, when team building event are more geared towards enjoyment and fun, it is hard to yield any lasting results. It’s important to know the difference between team building and team bonding. Then you can have fun team bonding activities for a good time, but work on problems and serious topics with actual, professional team building activities.
Are team building activities effective?
Over the course of the past few years, team building effectiveness has reportedly dropped for many companies. But why? A myriad of statistics on team building effectiveness tell us otherwise. Let’s unpack the history of team building for a second.
During the late 1920s, team work effectiveness in the context of work attracted more and more attention. The now famous Hawthorne Studies looked into how different conditions might impact workers. The study found that a shared group identity could immensely improve team performance, work quality and satisfaction. The following aspects turned out to be the most important during the experiment:
This study really kick-started the trend of building effective and efficient teams for many companies. The three aspects mentioned above formed the core of team building. In fact, they still do today. However, along the lines, it appeared that team building events had to become more palatable. Deeply working on serious issues isn’t always fun, so team building became more and more focused on enjoyment. In order for it to improve the team spirit, employees shouldn’t dread the experience, right? The underlying notion of “We want to improve the way we work together” is still there. However, the outcome is much less powerful.
Have team building events changed?
So, what’s the status quo of team building today? From our experience, people’s relationship with classic team building events is as follows: Many hate it, most employees endure it and only a few truly enjoy it. Let’s break down the main reasons why that is so:
- One-off events: Consistency is key. After the yearly bowling outing, yes, team members probably know each other a bit better and have some nice conversations during the following work week. However, beyond that, the usual workflow will quickly come back to where it was before. Without enforcing meaningful team interactions regularly, expensive outings will remain fruitless.
- Doesn’t address problems: Communication, collaboration and teamwork: These are the vague and foggy buzzwords team building allegedly works on. Firstly, having picnics together doesn’t necessarily improve any of those problems. Secondly, these aspects are often not even the core issue of a company. Even if they were, doing cooking challenges with Susie from HR will probably not change anything in the way you work together.
- Not everyone feels comfortable: Let’s be real, some team building activities are uncomfortable, embarrassing, lengthy and just totally pointless. When everyday office workers are forced to do a dancing classes, they will probably not have the best of times. Sure, pushing comfort zones is important, but employees shouldn’t feel like they are mocked or put on the spot when attending a team building. This also sets a bad tone for events to follow.
- Alcohol: Nothing wrong with sharing a drink or two with your colleagues after a successful and demanding day of team building exercises. However, many events almost feel like an excuse to have a party and drink. Sounds harsh, but it’s a fact. By doing team building this way, you will not achieve the desired results.
Colleagial relationships are not the problem
Collegial relationships are not the problem: The company Mars has also noticed that. After many failed and expensive, classic team building retreats, they strived to find the right steps to building a successful team. Mars conducted an extensive research across their teams and, after long investigations, they came to the conclusion that relationships between team members were already good. They simply did not collaborate. Also, it didn’t just come down to relationships and trust amongst team members, but to the individual motivations of employees.
Mars conducted a questionnaire amongst 125 teams that established how clearly their work team knew about their priorities, objectives, as well as some possible worries about the company. Employees also felt very attached to their own work, which left the company with the following picture: People love the things they are good at and can excel at. They felt a strong sense of ownership for the work they were personally accounted for. Collaboration just didn’t make sense for them: Why make a process more messy and complicated when they could achieve great results in less time doing it themselves?
Does the team building genre affect effectiveness?
Long story short: You will not improve team performance without in depth-work sessions, difficult conversations and the backing of your team. However, this doesn’t mean you have to leave fun team building activities completely behind.
The difference between team building and team bonding
At the end of the day, nothing is wrong with rope courses, karaoke nights and company picknicks. However, they fall more into the category of team bonding rather than team building. They are perfectly fine for enhancing relationships, but useless when actual pressing topics are involved. Bonding time between team members is never a bad thing, and the occasional afterwork event surely does no harm in fostering that. But when these activities are forced upon your workforce under the pretense of fostering collaboration and communication, things get awkward, stiff and useless.
By the way:
Team bonding and building experiences are by no means exclusive to offline events. Want proof? Check out our ultimate list of online team building games and remote team activities.
How we at teamazing maximize our team effectiveness
We are ourselves a team building company, so have tested the majority of team building activities to the core. This is how we handle things with our core team: We usually get together once a year to do an in-depth team building event. And when we say team building, we mean team building. Here, we focus on deep topics such as our company values, address conflicts and prepare ourselves for possible challenges ahead.
Our last team building in September 2022, for example, was all about establishing a new company culture and all the problems and conversations that come with it. To break things up from the serious, we embarked on a fun scavenger hunt fitting to the theme of our event. For many, it was the highlight of the weekend and a perfect example of how fun-focused team bonding activities can actually be a valuable asset to team building events.
Most teams we work with have a similar approach. They plan a Christmas party, corporate retreat, kick-off event or seminar, and want a fun supporting program to give the participants the chance to breathe and recharge before having to dive into the next heavy topic. We notice that team bonding exercises often make the team aware of possible problems or room for improvement. Then the wish to dive deeper comes naturally. Clients book workshops on communication, resilience or collaboration: Here, they get the chance to really get down into the nitty-gritty and actually tackle their problems.
Team building effectiveness: It’s up to you
So, here’s your answer to the question: Does team building really work? That, my friend, entirely depends on your approach. There are a myriad of team building offers out there. Some are really good, and some are probably not the right fit for you. But they all have one thing in common: You have to do them at the right time and setting. When and how that is? Only you can find out by engaging with your team and getting to know the work style, strengths, weaknesses and personalities within it.
VIDEO: How to build effective teams
Are there statistics for team building effectiveness?
Team building is a highly researched topics, so statistics can be found on almost any aspect of team building. However, they should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Statistics do not need to reflect your individual experience. Whether team building activities are effective or not cannot be measured. The experience depends on how you utilize team building measures. Are you searching for a fun event to compliment a company Christmas party or kick-off event? Or does your team have serious issues that you need to work through? Consider these questions before deciding on a team building.
How does team building improve performance?
When done in the right way, team building can immensely improve performance. Especially when working on more in-depth topic, each team building activity can be catered to exactly your team’s individual needs. Consequently, performance will improve.
Why is team building effective?
Team building creates a time and a place for your workforce to actively work on pressing topics, issues or to prepare for future challenges. During everyday work, these aspects can easily get lost and not be a priority. During team building events, people can focus on finding solutions to take with them in their work life. Your team will be more effective as a result.